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Always Look Forward
No, thanks . . . Ill walk, Max said to Gronski, walking away from the police officer. He pulled the collar of his jacket up around his neck, at the same time, started fooling around with the Maxwell Smart mask the real killer had been wearing. As a result, he walked face first into a call box on a pole in front of him. He bounced back, shaking his head at himself.
Max! Gronski hollered, coming up behind him. You cant walk from Baltimore to D.C. Let us give you a ride.
Well . . . okay, Max said reluctantly. He knew it wasnt the policemans fault, he had only been doing his job. He got into the back seat of the police car and leaned back. He watched for a bit as Gronski explained the situation to the Baltimore police. His eyes grew heavy and he fell asleep. He woke up only when Gronski shook him.
Were back, Max. Where ya wanna go?
Max shrugged. I dont know . . .
How about your girlfriends?
The car pulled up in front of a non descript brick apartment building and Max got out. Thanks. He said, slamming the door, cutting off Gronskis second apology.
He walked up the stairs to the third floor and down the hall to 99s apartment. He leaned wearily against the door frame and knocked on the door. When there was no response, he knocked again, this time a little harder.
Whos there? 99s suspicious voice asked.
99 threw open the door. Max!! she cried.
He smiled tiredly at her, Hey, 99. Can I come in?
Of course! Get in here before somebody sees you.
He took a step forward, but was so drained he went down on one knee. 99 grabbed him around the waist. Oh, Max . . . she said, Here . . . put you arm around my shoulder. She was able to get him into a standing position and half drag him into her apartment. She kicked the door shut with her foot, locked it and dragged him to the sofa, where he collapsed. She sat down beside him.
Max . . . what . . . how . . . ? She began talking hastily. Max, weve got to hide you. This is the first place Gronski will look . . .
Max shook his head. Calm down, 99, he said, putting a hand on her arm. I found the one-handed man, his accomplice had this . . . he pulled the mask out of his pocket.
So thats how they did it!
I found them in that old apartment building in Baltimore. Gronski was right on my tail, he must have tapped your phone. I managed to get in and knock out the one-handed man, but his buddy came out of the bathroom with a gun and got the drop on me. When I told him the place was surrounded by Control agents, he believed me. Then he knocked me out . . . He paused, I dont know why he didnt kill me, he said softly. Anyway, he put on the mask and went outside. He didnt stop when Gronski hollered, he pulled the gun and started shooting . . . they killed him. You should have seen the looks on their faces when I walked out! Max smiled.
Then . . . youre free?
Free? He laughed, Yeah, I guess youd call it that . . . Ive got nowhere to go because my apartments sealed, Ive got no money . . . I dont even have my drivers license. Can I stay?
Of course you can. Look, why dont you go take a shower? She touched his cheek. Youre exhausted.
He took her hand and held it there against his cheek. You cant imagine how tired I am. But . . . he smiled sheepishly, These are the only clothes I have.
Ive got some of your stuff.
You do? Whered you get it?
Your office. Remember that suitcase you tossed in the closet after our last mission?
I forgot all about that stuff, He made a face. Ewww . . . some of it was wet. Ill bet it was pretty rank.
99 smiled discreetly. Well . . . yeah. After you were arrested, I brought it home and washed it. I thought you might need it.
Well, Max, its like this . . . she hesitated, wondering if she should tell him. I was going to help you escape. I was hiding down the road, about fifteen miles from where you had your accident, in the trees. I had one of those Kaos Stoppers in the road. You know, the one that lies flat, but when you pull the cord, the nasty spikes pop up? Anyway, after the tires were flat, I was going to snatch you.
Max was shocked, How?
Sleeping gas bomb. Then Id un-cuff you and drag you into the woods. I had provisions for a month.
And where were you taking me? Max was fascinated, and touched, by 99s plan.
She shook her head. I dont know. I threw the basic plan together right after you were arrested, but I really didnt think I would need it. When you really were convicted, and then sentenced to die, I was so upset I didnt give a thought to where we would go. All I knew was I had to get you out of that car before it got to the prison. But you beat me to it. And when I didnt hear from you, I got more and more frightened. I had just made up my mind tonight to go searching for you when you called. Im so glad youre all right. Where were you all this time?
Max told her everything, his escape, the constant running and sleeping in the woods. The diner job and the discovery of where the one-handed man was while trying to sleep on a park bench. The fear and loneliness were evident in his voice and he had to stop several times. He clutched at 99s hand feverishly, as if he were afraid to let go.
Oh, Max . . . 99 said tearfully. I wish you would have gotten a little further down the road, then you wouldnt have had to sleep in the woods . . .
Max was looking at her curiously, still holding her hand against his cheek.
What? she asked.
You were gonna do that for me?
But . . . if you were caught, you would have gone to prison.
I know. She said.
Max was bone tired, and overwhelmed by what he had just heard. I think Ill take that shower now, 99.
She nodded and helped him to the bathroom. They stood for a moment as Max wavered on his feet.
You gonna be okay, Max?
He smiled at her and nodded.
If you need me, holler, She said, closing the door. He stood there for a moment, with his hands against the sink. With a sigh, he stripped and took a shower. It was one of those incredible showers, one you wish could go on forever. When he finally climbed out, his clothes were gone, but a pair of his pajamas were laying over the closed toilet seat. A new toothbrush lay on the counter. He smiled as he picked it up and brushed his teeth. He staggered to the bed, shut off the light on the nightstand, climbed under the covers and immediately fell asleep.
99 entered the room. Max, you want something to . . . ? her voice trailed off. She stood by the bed for a few minutes, watching him sleep. She touched his cheek and gave him a gentle kiss on the forehead. She went into the bathroom and, when she came out, she grabbed a blanket and extra pillow out of the closet, knowing exactly where everything was in the darkened room. She was headed toward the living room when Max started talking in his sleep. She paused . . . at first it was no more than a whisper . . . but then he got louder, and started moving around. Suddenly, he flung off the covers and yelled, NO! 99 . . . Help me!
She went to the bed, sat down and shook him gently. Max . . . Max . . . wake up.
He awoke immediately. 99 . . . He said, sitting up and pulling her into his arms. She hugged him back.
Its okay, Max, youre safe, she said.
99 . . . please . . . dont leave me alone.
99 didnt hesitate, she got into the bed, threw the covers over them and held him. He buried his head in her shoulder.
They were about to execute me, he said, desperately clutching at her, talking about the dream. You were there . . . I could see you. And you couldnt help me . . .
Shhh . . . She soothed. Nobodys going to hurt you . . . youre safe now. She stroked his hair. Sleep, Max, everythings going to be all right.
The tension slowly left him and he hugged her. 99 . . . he said, falling into a deep sleep.
Max woke up and glanced at the clock, it was well after one in the afternoon. He had been sleeping for over twelve hours. He got up and went to the bathroom. As he washed his face, he looked at his reflection in the mirror. There were black circles under his eyes and he needed a shave, but otherwise he felt one hundred percent better. He put on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and went into the living room. 99 was sitting on the sofa, reading a book and watching a soap opera. Max stood behind the couch and watched for a moment.
Do you really like these things? He asked.
Not really, 99 said. Im not paying any attention. I usually keep the TV on for company when Im home in the afternoons. Keeps it from being so lonely.
I understand that, Max said, sitting down beside her. They watched for a while. During the course of the half hour show there was a birth, an auto accident, a death (as a result of the auto accident), several affairs and an explosion.
Gee . . . I wish my life was that dull, Max said.
Me too. Hey, are you hungry? You have to be. Come on, lets get something to eat.
Max followed her into the kitchen. She opened the refrigerator and stared rummaging around.
She turned and looked at him.
About last night . . . I was so tired and scared. And that dream . . . well, you helped me through a rough time. Thanks. He took her into his arms and hugged her. Thank-you . . .
Hey! She said, still holding him and looking into his eyes. I got a call from Gronski. He came over this morning. He needed that mask, so I gave it to him. He left your stuff and said your apartment was yours again. He also told me to tell you how sorry he is for what he put you through . . .
He said that last night, Max sighed.
You want to go home? Ive got your car. Since it belongs to Control, the cops couldnt keep it. The Chief sent me down to pick it up last week. She held up the keys.
I thought you were going to fix me lunch, Max said softly, giving her that puppy-dog look.
Sure! Ham and eggs?
Okay, that sounds good . . . I guess . . .
Whats the matter, Max?
I dont know . . . I . . . He leaned back against the counter and stared at her.
What?? She asked, puzzled.
99 . . . Im mad at you.
For what?? She asked, surprised . . . and hurt.
For coming up with such a stupid plan. Do you realize what kind of life you wouldnt have had if you had succeeded?
Max . . . you were innocent.
99 . . .
Enough, Max. It didnt happen, so forget it. As she picked up a couple of eggs, Max grabbed her arm and spun her around, causing her to drop them.
Max . . . Her protest was cut off as he pulled her into his arms and kissed her. A moment later, as he tried to pull her closer, he slid in the eggs she had dropped and they both tumbled to the floor. As they lay there, looking at each other, they burst out laughing and couldnt stop. They lay on the floor in hysterics . . . pointing at each other. They were laughing so hard they didnt hear the knock on the door . . .
The Chief continued to pound on the door. When no one answered, he gave it a hard kick . . . which sent a sharp pain all the way up his spine. But it jarred the door just enough for him to enter the apartment. He heard the loud guffawing coming from the kitchen, so he hobbled over and opened the door. He saw Max and 99 laying on the floor, amid broken egg shells, still laughing hysterically. He leaned against the door jam and watched, waiting for them to notice him.
When 99 looked up and saw the Chief, she fell out laughing even harder. She shook Max and pointed. Max looked up, pointed at the Chief, then totally lost it again. They continued to laugh. Finally, the Chief got himself a Coke out of the fridge, sat down at the table and kicked off his shoes. He put his feet up and watched the spectacle going on before him. As his two top agents continued to laugh hysterically and roll about on the floor, he nonchalantly sipped the Coke. Finally they regained some measure of control and sat leaning against the cabinet doors, catching their breath.
Oh, Max . . . 99 said. She wiped the tears from her eyes and tried to get up, only to fall down again in the slippery egg. That started them laughing again. The Chief merely shook his head. Max finally managed to get to his feet and helped 99 up.
You can help me clean the floor, 99 said, tossing a towel at him. After Max wiped up the egg and 99 cleaned the floor with warm water and pine cleaner.
Pine fresh scent, straight from the woodlands of Maine, Max said, reading the label. They both burst out laughing again and even the Chief had to smile. Since they were on the verge of another laughing binge, the Chief finally opened his mouth.
Max, I hear youve been cleared.
Max turned to him, catching his breath. Yes, finally. They got the two Kaos agents who did it. The one who wore the mask is dead, but . . . he frowned and turned to 99. What did Gronski say about the one-handed man?
They got him. You must have conked him pretty good because he was still unconscious when they got to the room.
Oh . . .
So?? What happened? The Chief asked.
As Max began the story, 99 interrupted.
You guys want lunch?
They both nodded and Max launched into the story. As they talked, 99 scrambled ham and eggs and made toast. She piled all the food in the middle of the table along with the dishes and silverware, stopping the conversation long enough to tell them to help themselves. 99 watched Maxs face as he told the Chief his story, it sounded different somehow. Not the facts, but his voice had taken on a different tone. It took her a few minutes to realize that the emotion in his voice was different. He was purposely covering up . . . not letting the Chief know how scared he had really been. Max glanced over and noticed she was watching him. He gave her a smile and continued with his story, telling him how Gronski had dropped him off at 99s because he had nowhere else to go. He said he was grateful to 99 for sleeping on the couch . . . so he could sleep in the bed.
I have to make a call. 99, can I use your phone? The Chief asked.
Sure, you know where it is.
Thanks. He left the room.
Im so grateful to 99 for sleeping on the couch, 99 said, grinning at Max.
Well, I couldnt tell him where I really slept, could I?
I dont care.
I do. 99 . . . He stared at the table. Uhhh . . . please . . . dont tell him how terrified I was.
I would never do that!
I dont know how Im ever going to repay you . . .
Friends dont ask for or expect repayment, 99 said, running a finger gently down his cheek.
Max took her hand and tenderly kissed the palm, sending a chill up her spine.
You think we can get him out of here? Max asked, nodding toward the living room.
Maxwell Smart! Just what do you have in mind?
Nothing. He grinned and shrugged. Well . . . thats not exactly true. But, 99 . . . I would never, ever take advantage of you or do anything to hurt you.
I know that, She said, smiling at him. Hmmm . . . what kind of excuse can we use to . . . Max, let go of my hand, The Chiefs coming.
They jumped up from the table. 99 started running water in the sink as Max collected the dishes. They were casually washing them when Chief came back into the kitchen.
Good news. You can start back to work as soon as you want. I personally think you need to take a couple days to get things straightened out and relax a bit. 99? You take some time off too. I know this has been really hard on you and youll want to help Max, he headed towards the front door. Max and 99 followed Im going back to headquarters. If you have any problems with your landlady, give me a call. And he left with a wave of his hand.
Max and 99 cleaned up the kitchen and sat back down in front of the TV.
Isnt there anything on but these soap operas? Max asked.
Well . . . 99 flipped through the TV Guide. Max!! Its a Bogie and Bacall festival! Wanna watch??
Do you have to ask?
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